Fine Gael has been branded a “safe house for right-wing politics” after a series of controversies over bigotry, including a by-election candidate who claimed asylum seekers need to be “deprogrammed” when they seek refuge in Ireland.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed confidence in Fine Gael’s Wexford by-election candidate Verona Murphy (left) and will continue to campaign for her, even though he admits her statements about migrants were “wrong” and “misinformed”.
Ms Murphy sparked outrage and was accused of playing the race card when she suggested that asylum seeker children as young as four years old need to be “deprogrammed” as they may have been “manipulated by Islamic State”.
The Refugee Council of Ireland said Ms Murphy is an “inappropriate candidate for public office in modern Ireland” given her remarks, while the Immigrant Council of Ireland said such “cheap and nasty anti-migrant soundbites have no place in Irish politics”.
It is the latest in a series of stories of Irish politicians acting in a bigoted. manner.
Last week, Galway TD Noel Grealish (centre), an independent TD whose votes help to maintain the minority Fine Gael government in power, grabbed headlines when he suggested that Nigerians who sent money back to Africa over the past decade are involved in crime. Grealish refused to apologise for the remarks whch seemed deliberated aimed at capitalising on racist prejudice. They follow comments he has previously made about African asylum seekers “sponging off the system”.
Also last week there was the news that Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee (right), the Fianna Fáil by-election candidate in Dublin Fingal, has repeatedly used the word ‘pikey’, a slur word used to refer to Travellers.
A series of tweets showed that she also used the words “knacker” in a derogatory manner and referred to a Dublin nightclub as a “sluts venue”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin refused to take action against her, and even went canvassing with her last week in a show of solidarity.
Referring to the Fine Gael candidates’s outburst, Solidarity-PBP TD Bríd Smith urged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who is of mixed race, to show leadership on the issues.
She asked: “How high does the Taoiseach’s bar go? When will he address this issue and de-programme and deselect this candidate? If he does not, the increased use of the race card is on his shoulders as the leader of this country.”
Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, said there is a worrying trend of public representatives expressing anti-asylum seeker sentiment and called on politicians and those seeking public office to pause and reflect on what they say.
Referring to Ms Murphy’s remarks, he said: “I struggle to think of a comment as false or potentially dangerous as what she said. In our opinion, she would be an inappropriate candidate for public office in Ireland.”
*Four 26 County by-elections take place on Friday, 29 November: in Dublin Fingal, Dublin Mid-West, Cork North-Central and Wexford. Counting takes place on Saturday, with the first results available by Saturday afternoon/evening.